I was asked a question yesterday about how we manage reading aloud to such a wide age group. That is, how do we find books that interest children between the ages of 16 and 2. (Can I just pause and say Hooray! I don't have to think up a topic to post about?)
The simple answer is that we don't. We don't really worry about finding just the right book that will appeal to everyone. I look at choosing books about the same way that I look at choosing meals... I cater more to the oldest and let the littles come along for the ride. More often than not, they rise to meet my expectations. But also like meal planning, this is not true 100% of the time. There are some times we will choose a book because it is good and we know the younger ones will like it, just as sometimes I will choose meals that I know appeal more to the younger set than the older one. More often than not, the older children end up enjoying it just as much as their younger siblings. Either because it's just a good book and they've never heard it before, or because they remember loving it when they were littler and don't mind hearing it again. Good literature appeals to all ages.
Logistically the way we have set up our read aloud schedules looks like this. At lunch time I read to everyone. This fall it has been books that relate to our study of ancient Egypt (The Boy of the Pyramids and The Golden Goblet). I also have a short chapter book about lighthouses which we'll read in December (Lighthouse at Tern Rock). Then I have some more book about Egypt and about the California gold rush planned. The littles are eating (and the little girls are strapped into their chairs), so they are happy to sit and listen to what they can as well. I don't kid myself that they are getting anything out of the story, but the practice of sitting and listening and hear the flow and rhythm of language is an important part of developing a love of stories and reading.
In the evening, J. and I divide and conquer. I read picture books to K. and the little girls and J. reads to TM and D. I'm thrilled because G. and L. have developed a love of the Frances books and will happily sit and listen to them. Actually, they are pretty insatiable and will sit for any amount of time as long as someone is reading to them. Right now J. is reading a book about Robin Hood to TM and D. They have already worked their way through the entire Lord of the Rings, many of the books by E. Nesbit, the Ramona books, some of the Borrowers, and quite a few more. I'm not sure what is up next.
We have gotten out of the habit, but I've been meaning to go back to reading to A. and P. Normally we read together after the little girls have been tucked into bed. In the summer we finished with the Emily of New Moon series by LM Montgomery. Just typing this makes me feel a bit guilty, so perhaps it will spur me on to resuming our reading sessions. Their new room is almost done and maybe that will give us a chance to restart our reading habit.
Learning to listen to stories is a skill. If a child has been hearing them from infancy, it is an easy skill to pick up. But if this is a new habit that is being formed, it does take some training. When we are reading, we have a few basic rules. The first is that if you are the intended audience, you must stay in the room... no wandering away. The second is that you cannot look at something with printed matter on it while you are listening. Humans don't actually multi-task, we just think we do, and things with print on them will cause the person to read the words instead of listening to the words. For instance, no looking at another book, even if it is a picture book or looking at a magazine or looking at at the newspaper. The third is you may not talk because you are disturbing someone else. You may ask a question, but not side conversations. We do allow our children to quietly play or color or build. Some children listen better if their hands are busy. It just can't be a loud and distracting activity. When I am reading non-fiction aloud as part of our schoolwork, I will often give them coloring pages to work on as I read. As for the busy, busy, busy little girls? Well, if I am reading and they are not at the table eating, they are in the pen playing with toys. It just doesn't work to try and read while chasing little girls.
To sum up... start early, choose good books, keep the hands busy, assume everyone will like the story, and keep practicing.
Edited to add: Since I seem to be getting a lot of new readers because of this post, I wanted to add where you could find some of our favorite read alouds. The first place is to look at the sidebar at the Amazon link. There I have listed quite a few of the chapter books we have enjoyed together. (Also, because of the state in which I live, I am not part of the Amazon Associates program, I merely keep it there because it is a handy way to maintain the list.) You can also go to my 100th post where I have listed 100 of my favorite books in all categories.